FEATURES & COMMENTARY
San Diego, CALIF. — Peter Galli reports that the message is coming out of the Linux community loud and clear: The open-source operating system is here to stay in the United States and around the world.
There’s no shortage of evidence to support this, particularly as large vendors such as IBM continue to embrace and actively promote the platform. Federal agencies are also turning to Linux; they recently called on Linux vendors to work aggressively toward its certification and approval, thereby giving agencies a much-wanted alternative to proprietary software, notably Windows systems from Microsoft Corp. (see eWeek, Nov. 6).
In addition, Linux vendors, including Red Hat Inc., SuSE Inc., TurboLinux Inc. and VA Linux Systems Inc., said there are already significant increases in deployment across local and state government agencies, as there are far fewer licensing and approval issues involved. Adding fuel to the fire, a number of Asian governments have recently embraced the Linux platform.
All of this must be sending shudders down the spines of even the most die-hard Windows and Unix backers, who have until now dismissed Linux as a fringe system that was not appropriate for mission-critical, enterprise-level applications. Some, however, like IBM, which has its own Unix variant, are viewing Linux as a strategic opportunity. Officials there said IBM is positioning itself as the top provider of mission-critical software for e-business customers.
Al Gillan, an analyst with International Data Corp., in Framingham, Mass., said IBM is actively seizing the gap in one of the few markets not dominated by Microsoft. “It’s encouraging to see IBM providing the same set of services and features on Linux as it does on its other platforms,” Gillan said.
IBM is also putting its money where its mouth is. It recently announced a deal to supply Lawson Inc., a Japa nese convenience chain, with more than 15,000 IBM eServers running Red Hat Linux. The latest data from IDC in Japan shows that Linux currently represents 8 percent of all the server operating systems sold there this yeara rise of more than 144 percent year-on-year.
The adoption of Linux at the federal level is also far more widespread than is publicly acknowledged, a trend that is expected to gain significant momentum over the next year. While federal agencies are not officially sanctioned to use Linux software, its usage is extensive.
“The federal government accounts for a reasonable slice of our business,” said Howard Levenson, federal sales manager for VA Linux, in Washington.
The Census Bureau has Linux installed at both the Web-server and desktop levels; the Department of Defense is an active buyer, while the National Security Agency has bought a large number of systems, Levenson added. Other government sites investing in Linux software include the Bureau for Public Debt. “As Linux becomes increasingly pervasive in the commercial sector, its role in government will continue to grow, until the federal government has no option but to offi cially sanction its use in order to standardize and control that usage,” Levenson said.
Lonn Johnston, vice president of marketing for TurboLinux, of Brisbane, Calif., agreed that Linux is being used in a number of solutions across government. “We are working with a partner to provide a Linux enterprise-level application at the Pentagon,” Johnston said.
What is also significant is the relative acceptance of the Linux platform by foreign governments and businesses in the commercial sector, especially in Asia. The Chinese government is particularly receptive to Linux, as it is concerned about the dominance of Microsoft and the security threat posed by its proprietary, closed-source code, Johnston said.
TurboLinux has done a number of deals in China, the latest of which is to supply Huasong, the Chinese Ministry of Information, with thousands of Linux units as it embarks on a nationwide Internet service provider rollout. “The pilot projects are under way this quarter, with full rollout starting in the first quarter of next year,” Johnston said.
The company had also entered into contracts with China’s space agency and Japan’s post office. The increasing utilization of Linux at this level abroad would have positive ramifications within the U.S. government down the line, Johnston said.
And a number of initiatives are under way to get the federal government to officially sanction Linux use. David Emery, the principal software engineer for army enterprise systems at Mitre Corp., a federally funded think tank in McLean, Va., said Mitre strongly supports an initiative to get the National Security Agency to approve a particular version or kernel of Linux.
While the Defense Information Infrastructure Common Operating Environment approved list currently includes Solaris 2.5.1, HP-UX 10.20 and Windows NT 4.0, these are ” tightly controlled, strictly managed systems, where the department is locked into a very tight vendor community. One of the fundamental questions is whether you can get this, and more, in the open-source community,” Emery said.
As such, there has been a lot of discussion within the Department of Defense over whether it should have a policy supporting open-source systems. Mark Norton, principal technical adviser for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense/Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence, said a Mitre study on the potential benefits of open-source software found that the single largest advantage is that there is no single vendor lock-in.
Other significant advantages include the fact that open-source code can be tailored to meet the department’s special needs and that it offers technical excellence and a higher level of efficiencyfewer bugs, fewer lines of code and better algorithms.
In addition, numerous people in the DOD are using Linux as part of its high-performance computer modernization effort. “We are excited and optimistic about its usage going forward and, yes, we can teach penguins the military close-order drill,” Norton said.